My life in food: Michael Caines
'My tutor at catering college said i could do better. I thought he was being picky'
Friday 07 September 2012
The executive chef at Gidleigh Park in Devon is something of an awards magnet. In 2006 he was awarded the MBE for services to hospitality. The following year he was AA Chef's Chef of the Year. His Anglo-French restaurant has two Michelin stars and has twice (2011 and 2012) been named the best all-round restaurant in the Harden's restaurant survey.
What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?
In my professional kitchen, I use a hand blender most often, which is obviously mechanised and reflects that type of professional, precise cooking. At home it is a garlic crusher. It reflects the cooking I want to do at home: quick and easy. Least used kit would have to be a low-temperature pressure cooker. The problem is, it wasn't quite what I thought it would be – it didn't manage to make the lovely sauces I had wanted, so it sits unloved.
If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?
First of all I would get cuts of meat that I can braise, so that it give me more money to use on vegetables. A braising joint – be it beef or shoulder of lamb – would be my choice. You get a lot of opportunities from slow-cooked meats. Robust food with lovely flavours and some nice veg would be my choice.
What do you eat for comfort?
Fruit has become more and more my comfort food. I pick; I grab an apple or grapes or nectarines. I love the sweetness and the freshness. Otherwise I like to eat nuts. I've become more and more conscious that if I surround myself with rubbish, I will eat it – so I've tried to train myself.
If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
When you are looking at potatoes there are of course lots of things you can do with them – but they all require further ingredients. You might need goose fat, you might need cream or onions to make them into the best dish they can be. But bread, as food type, comes in various different styles and forms – flat, crunchy, soft.
What's your desert island recipe?
It is a stir-fry I do at home. I just sauté prawns with garlic and ginger and a bit of chili. Then I just take some beansprouts, carrots, and cabbage and cook them. After that I get some dipping sauce and five-spice, plus lime and coriander. It is just delicious – and easy, too.
What's your favourite restaurant?
One of the best meals I've had lately is at The Ledbury in London. What Brett Graham has done there is just fantastic. It was the kind of food I like to cook and eat myself it. It is clever but stays true to what I think food should be.
What's your favourite cookbook?
My favourite cookbook ever is Raymond Blanc's Recipes From Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons. It was so imaginative and creative. And it also introduced me to the idea of cooking with the seasons. That book inspired me to go and work for Raymond. I can flick through it now and think: "I remember cooking that."
Who taught you to cook?
My mother would claim she got it all going. I started when I was five or so, helping with the Sunday roast and baking cakes. But Bill Heads at catering college got me pointed in the right direction. He always used to say: "that is OK, but you can do better," which I used to misunderstand and think he was being picky. Only later did I understand he actually had a faith in me.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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